I’ve enjoyed the Yakuza games over the years but not in the same way as Judgment.
With the endless amount of fights, silly side quests and quirky mini games, Yakuza games are well-rounded experiences that have something for everyone.
I was always happy to dip in and out of Yakuza, exploring every nook and cranny of Kamurocho to find the latest arcade or perfect my score in the batting cages.
Judgment offers plenty of the same with its VR dice game, drone races and side cases, but it’s the story and style that absolutely hooked me in and would not let go.
That’s partly down to the script. One criticism I’ve had of Yakuza in the past is that some stories felt bloated and padded which made me lose interest part way through.
Judgement’s script is tight, though. The translation feels natural, each plot thread contributes nicely to the over-arching story, characters are well developed. It’s very good.
And it also helps that its lead, Takayuki Yagami – shortened to Tak – is as mysterious as he is engaging. See, Tak is an ex lawyer turned private detective, who also has connections to the Yakuza.
Tak was the best of the best and the lawyer people would ask for whenever they wanted someone to defend them in court. Why? Because he somehow managed to keep a serial killer out of jail.
The problem is that this played on Tak emotionally, especially when the guy he liberated went out and killed his girlfriend shortly after his sentence. It caused Tak to hand in his badge and seek another life.
The game takes place in 2018, three years after his lawyer days with Tak heading up a struggling detective agency with former Yakuza family member, Masharu Kaito.
They’re struggling to make ends meet, but are renowned for getting results with their unique blend of ass-kicking and puzzle solving.
Now, to be clear, Judgment plays out in a similar way to Yakuza – though you don’t need to have played those games to enjoy it.
You’re often challenged to on-street brawls with merciless thugs, building friendships with townsfolk, levelling up your skills, and taking the time to sit down for a refreshing Bento box.
Where it differs is the first person investigation sequences that see you examine areas of interest in the hunt for clues, whether it’s a murder investigation or finding out who ate the office cake.
Tak can start building a case and then use that evidence to bring him closer to the truth by showing pictures on his phone to accused parties.
Each Chapter plays out like its own seperate case, though it’s always linked back to the main story. Think of it like the cases in Phoenix Wright. Which is absolutely referenced, by the way.
As is Persona, and many other pop culture games and films, really showing an appreciation for games that have come before while standing on its own two feet.
So, yes, Judgment can look and feel a bit like Yakuza. You’re still traipsing around Kamarocho, you’ll often do similar things to other Yakuza titles, and you might even see a familiar face.
In fact, the criticisms I have about the game are largely ones I had with Yakuza – too many random battles that can interfere with the plot, lots of backtracking, and occassional repetition.
What Ryu Ga Gotoku and the team have managed to do though, is successfully create a new IP in a renowned world and not only make it interesting but at times, arguably, more enjoyable.
In fact, you can easily see how Judgment could become its own feature franchise over the next ten years and continue to evolve its gameplay mechanics to keep it fresh.
And even though the fighting might seem limited at first compared to Yakuza, the satisfaction of smashing up arcade machines and pummelling a thug around the head with a traffic cone never gets old.
You’ve just got the two fighting styles this time, Tiger and Crane. Tiger is better when you’re fighting an enemy one on one as your direct attacks are stronger, but Crane is best used when tackling a group of thugs.
As with Yakuza,though, you can buy new abilities and moves to keep Tak’s moves topped up and keep the action fresh through the game.
Judgment is one of my favourite games this year. I love the action and the way its mixed in with puzzle solving, throughout the main story it really does feel like a good split.
Without a doubt, I want to see more from this franchise, but perhaps see it explore new boundaries and take more risks to carve out its own niche.
As hard as it may be to believe, I think it has the chance to better than the Yakuza games if given the time, money, and resources to grow and shine.
This one gets no objections from me.
Judgment releases exclusively on PS4 on June 25th
Review code kindly provided by SEGA